March 5, 2018

Crisis: On Legal Tyranny, Merkel, USA Ignorant, Kushner's Conflicts, On The Guardian


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from March 5, 2018.


This is a Nederlog of Monday, March 5, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a
crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was the last five years:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

Section 2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:

A. Selections from March 5, 2018

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:
1. Legalizing Tyranny
2. Merkel Secures 4th Term, Keeping Germany on Centrist Course
3. Trolls and Hackers Find It Easy to Trick Americans Because We Are a
     Nation of Ignoramuses

4. Kushner’s Unconscionable Conflicts
5. Mark Galeotti’s response to Putin’s plea for reason: lies & penis jokes
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. Legalizing Tyranny

This article is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig. It starts as follows:
The students I teach in prison who have the longest sentences are, almost without exception, the ones who demanded a jury trial. If everyone charged with a crime had a jury trial, the court system would implode. Prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges use those who insist on a jury trial—often people who did not commit the crime with which they were charged—as examples. Their sentences, frequently life sentences, are grim reminders as to why it is in the best interests of a defendant, even if he or she did not commit the crime, to take a plea agreement. Ninety-four percent of state-level felony convictions and 97 percent of federal felony convictions are the result of guilty pleas. And studies by groups such as Human Rights Watch confirm the punitive nature of jury trials: Those who go to jury trials get an addition 11 years, on average, tacked on to their sentences. The rich get high-priced lawyers and lengthy jury trials. The poor are shipped directly to jail or prison.
I say, which I do because I did not (quite) know this. I did know something, but I did not know that (i) around 19 out of 20 court cases are the result of - probably false - guilty pleas, which is the case because (ii) those who do not consent to a guilty plea (e.g. because they are innocent) will get on average 11 years longer imprisonment than those who plead (often falsely) guilty.

To me, that sounds like plain lunacy, but it is the fact in the USA. Here is Hedges on the relation between this - I insist: quite insane - "legal system" (that avoids a decent trial in 19 out of 20 cases and punishes those who insist on a trial with on average 11 years more) and morality in the USA:
The corrosion of the moral authority of the legal system has ominous implications as we veer closer and closer to despotism. It is an example of one of the fundamental precursors of tyranny, as political theorist Hannah Arendt pointed out in her book “On Violence.” Arendt wrote that “power and violence are opposites: where one rules absolutely, the other is absent.” When institutions such as the judicial system break down and lose legitimacy, their moral authority is destroyed.
The court system collapse now afflicting the poor is working its way like gangrene up the body of the judiciary. Violence is increasingly the only tool left to a discredited corporate state and its bankrupt ideology of unfettered capitalism. What is being done to the poor will soon be done to all of us.
I think Hedges is mostly correct, although I do not think that "all" of the USA will be mistreated like this, for the simple reason that the very and the extremely rich do need mostly loyal people to do what the very and the extremely rich desire to see done, and my guess is that these are between 10% and 20% of the people (though I may be an optimist here).

Here is how "the law" operates these days in most cases in the USA:
Police don’t have the time, resources or inclination to investigate most homicides. To close a case, what they need is a suspect, or suspects. Suspects always receive several other charges, such as kidnapping, that carry long sentences, in addition to the main charge. It does not matter whether they kidnapped someone. That is not the point. The point is to give them so many charges that they are looking at a virtual life sentence. This makes the reduced sentence offered in a plea agreement very attractive. Since poor people often cannot afford bail, they sit in a county jail for months and often years before trial, adding to the pressure to accept a plea agreement.
This indeed is not the law, though it pretends to "the law" in the USA, and it also shows me why the sentences that the US judges impose are so very much higher than they are in Europe. And there seem to be two kinds of reasons: First, plea deals are made intentionally as harsh as possible (even though non-plea deals get on average 11 years more), and second, those convicted are even cheaper labor forces than the poor in Third World countries like India.

Then there is this on court-appointed lawyers and plea deals:
Secondly, you are assigned a court-appointed lawyer. This lawyer is so overworked he or she does not have the time to investigate the case and mount a credible defense. The lawyer’s real function is as a negotiator with the prosecutor for a plea agreement. A plea agreement, always carried out in secret, means the prosecutor will drop some of the charges. A plea agreement reduces the time in prison significantly, often by half. Go to court, you are warned, and you will face all the charges.
And there is this on the American poor:
The judicial system never has been fair to the poor, especially poor people of color. But its propensity for injustice has been expanded over the past three decades, as Michelle Alexander illustrated in her book “The New Jim Crow.” The number of crimes, especially on the federal level, that people can be charged with has exploded. There were once only three named federal criminal acts: treason, piracy, and counterfeiting. Today there are thousands. The law as an instrument of morality at the state and federal levels has been deformed into an instrument of racialized social control. It imposes legal duties on the poor and then imprisons them for not carrying out those duties.
I think this is correct, and here is one (of many) reasons why:
I taught a student who had been given a life sentence plus 154 years for weapons possession and drugs. He had never been charged with a violent crime. These kinds of sentences are unheard of in most of the industrial world. They are common in despotic states such as China and the Philippines, states we increasingly resemble.(..) We have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. These numbers will, as our society unravels, go up.
Yes, I entirely agree. And it indeed explains why a man gets between 8 and 16 years for having committed a murder (in an ordinary court case) in Europe, while a man may get locked up for life for relatively small (and quite possibly false) crimes.

And this is about the ever growing influence of "corporations", which I also see in the light of neofascism, as this has been defined by me:
Corporations have taken over larger and larger segments of prison life, from food service to money transfers, commissaries and phone communications. A million prisoners work for corporations in prison and are often paid under a dollar an hour. Prisoners and their families are exploited for billions in corporate profits. Corporate lobbyists sponsor legislation to make sure this captive population remains captive. Black and brown bodies on the streets of our cities do not bring in revenue for these corporations; behind bars they each generate $40,000 to $50,000 a year.
Yes indeed. Here is Hedges' ending:
Once rights become privileges for any segment of a population, as Arendt pointed out, they can be revoked for the rest of the population. We have built a terrifying legal and policing apparatus that has placed the poor of our nation, victims of corporate pillage, in bondage. This system is creeping outward to cement into place an American tyranny.
And I fear this is also mostly correct. This is a strongly recommended article.

2. Merkel Secures 4th Term, Keeping Germany on Centrist Course

This article is by Unknown (no name given) on Truthdig. It starts as follows:
Germany ended months of political uncertainty Sunday when Chancellor Angela Merkel gained the support needed to preserve her governing coalition and secure a fourth term as leader of Europe’s most powerful economy.

The center-left Social Democrats voted overwhelmingly to remain in a coalition with Merkel’s conservative bloc, after difficult and drawn-out negotiations triggered by September’s elections, which saw the rise of a new right-wing force in German politics and raised questions about Merkel’s future.

Parliament is expected to meet March 14 to re-elect Merkel as chancellor, ending the longest time Germany has been without a new government after elections in its postwar history.

Yes indeed.

Perhaps I should add that I picked this article mostly because I am an European, although having said that I also should add that I like Merkel (somewhat) because - unlike the lawyers who are politicians in Holland - she used to be a good scientist; she is undoubtedly intelligent; she used to live in the GDR; and - while I may disagree with her policies and regularly do - she is at least rational. (In fact, I do not know of any one of the Dutch politicians of whom this holds.)

In any case, she will be chancellor again and it is expected this will be her general policy:

Merkel has drawn flak from both left and right for maintaining an unabashedly centrist course since taking office in 2005. With the coalition approved, she can now turn her attention to tackling rising anti-immigrant sentiment in Germany while pushing forward efforts to reform the stumbling European Union.

I like that policy a lot more than the right-wing Alternative for Germany. And there also is this bit on the AfD:

With Merkel’s bloc and the second-place Social Democrats in government, the right-wing Alternative for Germany, or AfD, now represents the biggest opposition party in Parliament, giving it a prominent platform to attack the chancellor.

Its leaders have vowed to “hunt” Merkel, though so far AfD’s novice lawmakers have stood out mainly by failing to grasp parliamentary procedures and putting forward motions all other parties reject.

Perhaps. We shall see. In any case, given the outcome of the German elections, I think this was the best outcome. And this is a recommended article.

3. Trolls and Hackers Find It Easy to Trick Americans Because We Are a Nation of Ignoramuses

This article is by Sophia A. McClennen on AlterNet and originally on Salon. This is from near the beginning:

Suddenly the breaking news story is that bots and trolls and other agents of disinformation are not only trying to influence our elections, they are trying to cause conflict among U.S. citizens. And of course, most of the news coverage hysterically suggests that the source of these digital media attacks is primarily Russian.

The real problem is that the United States is one of the least intelligent nations in the developed world. We aren’t good at processing and analyzing information, and that makes us suckers for bots, trolls and all other sorts of disinformation tactics.

I say! I completely agree, but it is only very rarely that the stupidity and the ignorance that mark so much of the USA's "political discourses" (the polite term) is as much as being noted. This time it is and I am glad, though I also have to admit that McClennen has the postmodernist title of being (I quote) "Professor of International Affairs and Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University".

Anyway... here is more by her:

We measure intelligence in lots of ways, but at the top of the list is literacy and numeracy. A study published in September 2017 by the U.S. Department of Education found that U.S. adults performed the lowest of all developed nations in numeracy. They also found that our literacy was on the low end of developed nations. Most interesting was the finding that young adults in their 20s from Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Japan who did not finish high school had the same literacy levels of U.S. high school graduates.

I happen to be Dutch and I have seen the Dutch education system being mostly collapsed towards stupidity, ignorance and - especially - Blatcherism: In Holland it has become the fashion since the early 1980ies to provide for almost anyone Blatcherist courses at "universities" that cost at least ten times as much as they did in the 1970ies while delivering at most half of the contents.

You may disagree with me, and my reaction will be that if you are Dutch you are very probably "an academic" who makes a lot of money each year with teaching bullshit and who excels in a single thing only: lying to cover his or her self-interest, while if you are not Dutch you very probably have no idea how the Dutch educational system - that was quite good from 1865 till 1965 - has been and is completely derailed, in fact since the 1970ies (though hardly anyone cares in Holland, for most Dutchmen hate anyone obviously more intelligent than they are).

Also, I insist that in Holland similar things happened as in the rest of Europe, both in forced mis-education and in other things, which I style Blatcherism because they were - i.a. - put forward by the biggest social fascist who ever controlled the Labour Party: The big millionaire - presently  estimated to hold 150 million pounds, that also are his sole and major interest - the degenerate Tony Blair.

But I know less about the rest of Europe compared to Holland, in part because I am Dutch and in part because the Dutch development was quite curious: Holland was the only nation in the whole world were the universities were effectively given to the students between 1971 and 1995, who also turned out to be quasi-Marxists and real postmodernists, with at most 1 in 20 in all those years having any real interest in real science.

Back to the USA and McClennen, who explains - quite convincingly - that in the USA education has been even less worth the last 40 years or so (at least) than it was in Europe:

Study after study shows that the United States underperforms in literacy across the developed world — especially given its resources. But that isn’t even the core issue; the real problem is the way we have consistently devalued quality education across all levels for decades.

Consider the fact that 14 states teach creationism in public schools. Add to that the reality that a Pew Research Study from 2015 found that 34 percent of Americans reject evolution entirely, saying humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

First, I agree that "the real problem is the way we have consistently devalued quality education across all levels for decades" - and in fact I go considerably further because I have been both part and victim of this development that went on since 1965 (the beginning of the arrival of the Baby Boomer Generation) and have been one of the sole protesters against it, which is explained by the fact that (i) nearly all students - 95% to be quite exact - were only interested in getting a degree, and were NOT interested at all in the knowledge they gained or might have gained by attending a university, and (ii) nearly all the academics - all but two, in my experience of 16 years in the University of Amsterdam - lied and lied and lied and lied, and were in fact only interested in three things (a) their high incomes (b) their high status and (c) the fact that they hardly needed to work.

These are all facts for me, for they are based on 16 years of consistently the same experiences (and in these years I was i.a. denied the right to take my - excellent - M.A. in the "University" of Amsterdam, because I had dared to criticize the parasites, flukes and idiots that pretended to teach me, and because I was "a dirty fascist" and "a terrorist" - in 1988!! - because I had said I was not a Marxist, and was opposed to the quasi-Marxist student-group the ASVA, that in fact held most of the powers in the "University" of Amsterdam between 1971 and 1995. (Incidentally: I have the most communist background of absolutely everyone who studied at the "University" of Amsterdam: Both of my parents were communists for 45 years; both were heroes in the Dutch resistance against Nazism; my communist father and communist grandfather were arrested in August of 1941 and comdemned as "political terrorists" to Nazi concentration camps, which my grandfather did not survive, while my mother's parents were anarchists all their adult lives - and no: None of my family had serious problems that I rejected Marx and Marxism age 20, because they all knew my reasons were quite serious and based on lengthy studies of Marx. They also disagreed, but they knew I was quite serious.)

Here is McClennen's judgement on the causes of the great declines in education in the USA:

But it isn’t just our knowledge base that’s the problem; it’s the fact that the United States has effectively abandoned the notion that investing in education is critical for the future of our nation.

I agree, but I also strongly suspect that (i) this is more or less the same in Europe and that (ii) the reason was the Baby Boomer Generation: it was - I suspect but do not know how to prove - already decided in 1965 these would have on average a much worse education than the previous generations, and namely because many of the academics-to-be were from a poor background.

It is a guess, but it also is the only reasonable explanation I know for the collapse of first class education in Europe, whence it disappeared as it disappeared in the USA: Only a very few - expensive and "elitist" - universities continued to give roughly the same education after 1965 as before 1965; most universities simply gave considerably less education.

Here is more by McClennen about the USA:

Our pathetic commitment to higher education is only surpassed by our poor media literacy. In order to reject false media information, citizens need to not just be literate; they need to be media literate.

And that’s where Fox News comes in. Fox News continues to command the number one slot in cable news, with Sean Hannity’s show as its most watched program. Yet Fox News statements by pundits and their guests are ranked by Politifact as true only 10 percent of the time.
Yes and no: I'd say all of education got worse, not just "higher education" and certainly not just in levels of literacy. Also, this did not just happen in the USA: it happened in Europe as well, although indeed not to the same extent.

As to Hannity: I do not know whether it is true that Fox News is "
true only 10 percent of the time", but I suspect it is. And one reason for me to avoid Fox News and Sean Hannity is simply that they seem to be preaching to people with IQs of 75 maximum and mostly large holes were others know at least something. And that stupidity is not the stuff I am going to watch.

Here is more on critical thinking in the USA:
It’s not just that we aren’t good at critical thinking; we don’t even value it. The United States, seeking to distance itself from its European counterparts, was founded on a deep anti-intellectualism. As Richard Hofstadter reminds us in "Anti-Intellectualism and American Life," Puritan John Cotton once wrote “the more learned and witty you bee, the more fit to act for Satan you will bee.”
Actually, I do not know what McClennen understands by "critical thinking". In fact, I assume that in order to do what I understand by it, one has to have a good understanding of mathe- matics, logic, physics, and philosophy of science, but then I know from my "academic experiences" in a European "University" that at most 1 in a 100, and probably no more than 1 in 500, do get such an understanding in the present-day "universities". (There will be some in physics and mathematics, but I fear this again only applies to the private initiatives of the most intelligent, although I may be mistaken there.)

And this is about the level of ordinary voters in the USA, or thus it seems:
Don’t forget that much of the left continues to blame Russia or misogyny or Bernie Sanders for the outcome of the election, rather than Clinton’s flawed policy platform — a move unsubstantiated by facts yet constantly shared on left-leaning social media. Eleven percent of Clinton voters thought Barack Obama was born in Kenya and 18 percent of her voters thought that vaccines cause autism, despite overwhelming scientific proof to the contrary.
Quite so, but then indeed these voters (!!) were not supposed to have a university education.
And this is about the average level of adult Americans:

 A 2006 Zogby poll found that more Americans can identify the Three Stooges than the three branches of government. Another poll from that same year found that 77 percent of Americans could name two of Snow Whites’ dwarves but only 24 percent could name two Supreme Court Justices.
I am one of the few (it seems) who is quite frightened by the normal levels of American stupidity and ignorance.

Here is McClennen's ending:
So before we overly invest energy and resources into shutting down propaganda, hoax news and other forms of disinformation, we should probably make an effort to wise up. Philosopher Steven Nadler wonders if it is even possible to “fix American stupidity,” a mindset he describes as intellectual stubbornness. Yet, thus far, we have stubbornly refused to take stock of our own critical thinking failures. The stupidest thing we could do is try to solve this problem by ignoring our own collective stupidity.

Yes, I agree: There will not be much improvement in the levels of stupidity and ignorance that rule the majority the USA until the level of education has been considerably improved. And I do not see this happening - what I have seen happening was the destruction of nearly all levels of higher education, and the halving of all education.

And in my case, I experienced that in Europe, and experienced nothing else since 1965, that is for over 50 years. Then again, I agree with McClennen that it is even worse in the USA. And this is a recommended article.

4. Kushner’s Unconscionable Conflicts

This article is by Robert Reich on his site. It starts as follows:

Before I turn to Jared Kushner, let me ask: Do you believe the U.S. government does the right thing all or most of the time?

The Gallup organization started asking this question in 1963, when over 70 percent of Americans said they did. Since then, the percent has steadily declined. By 2016, before Trump became president, only 16 percent of Americans agreed.

Why the decline? Surely various disappointments and scandals played a part – Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, “weapons of mass destruction,” the Wall Street bailout.

But the largest factor by far has been the rise of big money in politics. Most people no longer believe their voices count.

That view is backed by solid research.

I think this is correct - and the "solid research" Reich mentions is briefly presented in his article, but is skipped in my review.

But I do hold fast to one thing: In roughly 55 years the trust that "the American government" was doing mostly the right things fell from 70% to 16% - which also may be translated (rather fairly, in my opinion) by saying that the average American no longer believe he or she is living in a real democracy.

And I think that inference is correct. Here is more on Trump and Sanders:

Trump and Bernie Sanders – authoritarian populist and progressive populist, respectively – based their shockingly successful campaigns on the public’s outrage at the corruption of our democracy by big money. Sanders called for a “political revolution.” Trump promised to “drain the swamp.”

Trump hasn’t drained it, of course. He’s turned the entire government into a giant bog of lobbyists, real estate moguls, Wall Streeters, and billionaires.

I think that is right - and Reich might have added, but did not, that an important reason why Sanders did not fight the presidential struggle with Trump, which he probably would have won, because Hillary Clinton did her best to destroy his chances, and mostly succeeded, only to fail herself in being elected.

Here is more on Jared Kushner (Trump's son in law):

When he took the White House job, Kushner chose not to follow the usual practice of wealthy people when they join administrations – putting their assets into blind trusts managed by outside experts.

Instead, Kushner retained control over the vast majority of his interest in Kushner Companies, worth as much as $761 million, according to government ethics filings.

So how has Kushner separated his business dealings from his dealings on behalf of the United States? He hasn’t.

And this in turn means that Kushner may be attacked in his business dealings by politicians from quite a few countries, and in fact he was, as Reich also briefly outlines:

Kushner is such an easy mark that officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways to manipulate him with financial deals, according to U.S. intelligence.    

Kushner insists that he’s done nothing wrong, and there’s no direct evidence he has profited off his position in White House or put personal financial interests ahead of the interests of the American public.

But that’s not the point. Conflicts of interest are always difficult to prove, which is why we have ethics rules to avoid even the appearance of such conflicts.

Yes indeed. But such rules simply do not hold for Trump and his team, which is another reason they should be removed as soon as possible (though - alas, alas - probably not before the end of 2018). And this is a recommended article.

5. Mark Galeotti’s response to Putin’s plea for reason: lies & penis jokes

This article is by Catte on the Off-Guardian. It starts with an introduction:
The Guardian produced two responses to Putin’s speech of March 1, in which he both unveiled far-reaching new Russia weapons systems and used this as a platform to (once again) plead for an end to Western warmongering. Both of them display both the intellectual/educational/ethical impoverishment of the authors (an impoverishment that is now systematic in corporate media), but also the completely delusional world they inhabit. Today we take a look at Mark Galeotti’s Putin’s new arms race is all about his need to be taken seriously.
I think this introduction was not written by Catte but by the editor of the Off-Guardian. I like the Off-Guardian, in considerable part indeed because I agree with considerable parts of their criticism of The Guardian.

As to The Guardian: It probably was - a remnant of - the leftist and progressive paper until the previous editor (Alan Rusbridger) but since then it has fallen deeply. It seems Rusbridger is claimed to have made the finances of The Guardian worse, which again seems the highest concern of those working for The Guardian.

And I also have to admit that since The Guardian made copying much more difficult than it was, I have mostly totally given up on it, and indeed not primarily because copying is more difficult, but because The Guardian's policies seem to have changed a lot.

Back to Catte and the Off-Guardian who opens her article on Mark Galeotti as follows:
Mark Galeotti, who is apparently (believe it or not) “senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations Prague and head of its Centre for European Security” went full idiot in the Guardian yesterday with a short piece entitled Putin’s new arms race is all about his need to be taken seriously.

The mere fact the title carries with it the implication that we don’t need to take the elected president of the largest country in the world with enough nuclear weapons to eradicate all life in earth “seriously” is enough to tell us all about the level of Mark’s contact with veridical reality. He clearly lives in that well-populated Washington/Langley logic-free dream zone where Russia is both a dangerous rogue state with enough reach to “hack” the US election and “attack” America, and a silly little rusty nowhere country to be mocked and patronised into oblivion.

I think this is quite right. And I didn't know who Galeotti is, but this indeed also takes away all possible interest I might have had in him, for definitely is a spinner of lies, dreams and delusions.

Here is more on the quality of his lies or delusions:

He tells us the weapons Putin talked about might sound “terrifying” but that’s ok because they probably won’t work (you know, much like the F-35), and anyhow, the animations in the presentation were “clunky”, and gee gosh, it’s all so frickin funny. (..) because…

It is easy to wonder, with a snigger, quite for what Putin is (over)compensating.

In case his sledgehammer wit is too subtle for you, Mark means Putin has a small penis. Yes, apparently he really thinks this comment says more about Putin’s manhood than about Mark Galeotti and his imbecilic reductionism.

I think this is correct as well. Here is the end of the article:

It’s clear to anyone who reads Putin’s speech and has listened to anything he has said on the topic for the last sixteen years, that he is very very worried the effective cancellation of the MAD doctrine might result in a nuclear war. It’s clear he sees the restitution of balance to be as much about reducing that risk as about defending his homeland.

The fact Mark either doesn’t understand these basic facts or thinks it’s safe to ignore them is in truth a personification of that massive “problem”. And until Washington and its babbling idiot mouthpieces can wake up to this, realise they don’t actually “make a new reality” simply by talking about it, the future of the human race continues to hang by a thread.

I agree. And this article explains some of my attitudes to The Guardian, which indeed have grown more and more sour since 2013, and it is recommended.


[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).

       home - index - summaries - mail